Welcome to the first match up in our Sweet 16 Round of the Strongest Town Competition. We invite you to read the answers that representatives from these two towns provided to questions about transportation, incremental growth, adapting to challenges, and more. Please scroll down to the bottom to vote.


Front Street in Traverse City during the summer. (Photo by Russ Soyring)

Front Street in Traverse City during the summer. (Photo by Russ Soyring)

Traverse City, MI

Entry submitted by: Rick Brown and Russ Soyring

Give an example of an incremental project that has happened in your town.

The Grand Traverse Commons is the epitome of an incremental project. As the Project Developer, Ray Minervini has said so many times, "we are doing this enormous project, one bite at a time. And, it's being designed for people, not cars." With this approach, about half of the empty historic state hospital campus buildings have been repurposed into a vibrant mixed-use village with residential, shops, offices and some light industrial uses often only feet apart. Increments of development continue with new exciting uses. The open lands surrounding the mixed-use village are incrementally being enhanced as Traverse City's own "Central Park".

Describe your town's transportation system and what transportation options are available for residents.

Traverse City is fortunate to have an excellent multi-modal transportation system serving the city and the surrounding region. This includes a superb transit system called BATA (bay-ta) that serves our city and surrounding communities. A nice feature BATA offers are shuttles during the National Cherry Festival and one-way shuttle services to cyclists riding the Leelanau Trail between Traverse City and Suttons Bay. They also offer shuttles for skiers to area slopes.

Traverse City has some of the best commuting/recreational trails in the nation, including the TART Trail running through the heart of the city and connecting to other area trails. In addition, the North American VASA Trail offers world-class hiking, jogging, mountain biking, and x-country skiing options with links to other trail networks. A water trail on the Boardman River is planned.

Sidewalks and bike lanes are provided through much of the city with more being added. In 2016, the City Commission voted to double the budget for sidewalk work in the city to $400k per year. In addition, improvements to Eighth Street in 2018 include protected cycle paths. Bicycle parking is available throughout the city. One can observe bicyclists pedaling in the city any day of the year, regardless of weather, often including my wife who biked to/from work 151 times in 2016.

Lastly, Traverse City has superior air service for a city of its size. Year-round direct air service is provided to Detroit and Chicago, and season seasonal direct service is provided to major cities in the east, midwest, south, southwest and Rockies.

To say the residents of Traverse City are actively involved in decision making would be a gross understatement. Public participation appears to part of the DNA here.

Describe how residents of your town are actively involved in local decision making.

To say the residents of Traverse City are actively involved in decision making would be a gross understatement. Public participation appears to part of the DNA here. In 2016, during the charrette process for the Eighth Street Corridor, literally hundreds participated in multiple public sessions on the topic. Virtually nothing flies below the radar here as feedback and opinions are encouraged and welcomed.

Tell us a story about how your town adapted to a challenge in some way.

Eighth Street is a critical east/west thoroughfare, where motorists have limited routes to travel in these directions due to bodies of water. Maintaining east/west travel capacity is essential for commuters and the two primary routes often back up during rush hours. Nearby residents, adjacent businesses, walkers, and cyclists however were demanding a calmer, quieter street, one that would be less hostile to live nearby or to walk or ride a bike.

The two groups were far apart in their vision to improve the street. The City engaged in a charrette design process that drew hundreds of participants. A consensus on a volatile issue was quickly attained. The street design was to be narrowed, the pedestrian and bicycle improved and the motor vehicle capacity maintained. The City Commission passed a resolution of support of the design with supportive comments from the public. The strong opposition in reducing the number of travel lanes from 4 to 3 dissipated during the public engagement process.

Another challenge was saving Grand Traverse Commons from the wrecking ball and turning the old State Hospital into a mixed-use village.

Is your town financially strong and resilient for future generations? How do you know?

Traverse City has a Double A+ bond rating with a "Stable Outlook." We are also investing into our existing infrastructure and replacing pipes, wires, and other supportive infrastructure in anticipation of a growing population and increasing demands.

Front Street itself is the primary shopping, dining, and entertainment district of the city with many restaurants, retail shops, and the handsomely restored State Theatre and Traverse City Opera House.

Does you town have a central "downtown" or district? If so, please describe this place.

Traverse City has an awesome downtown centered on and around Front Street, which was named a Great Place in America (Street) by the American Planning Association in 2009. Corridors extend in each direction to connecting nodes like the Warehouse District and Old Town. Front Street itself is the primary shopping, dining, and entertainment district of the city with many restaurants, retail shops, and the handsomely restored State Theatre and Traverse City Opera House. These two "marquee" attractions provide a rich variety of shows, events, and programs throughout the year including first-run features, the Traverse City Film Festival, and the National Writer's Series.

On the north end of the CBD, along the lake shore, are the waterfront open space, parks, beaches, marinas, and the Bijou by the Bay Theater, which also offers first-run films throughout the year and documentaries during the film festival. On the eastern edge of downtown are more dining and retail options, lodging, historic residential neighborhoods, as well as the Senior Center.

The Old Town District contains the Old Town Playhouse, a shopping and dining area, corporate offices, and a variety of mixed-use developments located on the south end of the downtown area. A government district of city, county, legal, and education offices is also situated in the southeast part of downtown. On the western edge of downtown are West Front, the Warehouse District, and Slabtown. These areas include dining, shopping, and entertainment venues, lodging, and tree-lined historic neighborhoods with brick streets.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

The active vibe of the city. This ranges from the busy shops and restaurants of award winning Front Street, to the restored theaters/movie palaces, to revitalized West Front, Slabtown, the Warehouse, and Old Town districts, to the stellar lake shore, to the re-purposed Grand Traverse Commons (former State hospital), to the dining and entertainment venues, to the amazingly gorgeous viewsheds, to you name it. Traverse City is teaming with activity and people throughout the year.


Photo by Digital Ephemera Photography

Photo by Digital Ephemera Photography

York, PA

Entry submitted by: Silas Chamberlin, Meagan Feeser, Tim Miller, Adam Walters, Stacy McClain, and Jody Chesla

Give an example of an incremental project that has happened in your town.

The growth of our monthly First Friday events, which went from 10 participating businesses and dozens of attendees in 2005 to more than 80 participating businesses and thousands of attendees today.

Downtown Inc estimates a total attendance of 53,000 for First Fridays annually. First Fridays see an average of 4,000 attendees each month, with numbers reaching 7,000-8,000 in the summer months and an estimated 12,000 in December for Light Up York. First Fridays are attended by a wide range of demographics, from families with young children to empty nesters, all of various race, culture and social class.

More than just a fun event, First Fridays are actually an active driver of economic development in Downtown York. According to figures from Americans for the Arts, the total economic impact of First Fridays in our community is $1,238,380 and provides for the equivalent of 31 full-time jobs.

First Fridays are shaping the economic and business development landscape of Downtown. Merchants report that sales are up 200 to 300 percent on a First Friday versus other Fridays. Downtown Inc estimates that more than $50,000 is spent in our Downtown on any given First Friday. Real estate developers who are investing millions in our Downtown have gone on record saying the success of First Fridays is what showed them the demand for residential and commercial exists in Downtown York.

Describe your town's transportation system and what transportation options are available for residents.

Downtown York is an extremely walkable City. The York County Heritage Rail Trail runs directly through our Downtown. With over 400,000 annual Trail users, it has become one of the primary non-vehicular access paths to Downtown York. York College of Pennsylvania has adopted the Trail as its campus connection to Downtown, promoting the Trail to its 5,000 students as an active lifestyle urban amenity. RabbitTransit, our public transportation system (bus), nearly 8,000 people each day to get to work, medical facilities, school and other life-sustaining activities--1.5M trips a year!

Our local newspaper has started a Facebook Group called “Fixing York” that has more than 5,000 members who share good news, discuss challenges, and brainstorm solutions.

We are in the early stages of a wholesale transportation plan including complete streets, multimodal connectivity, and improvements to overall accessibility. We have partnered with our General Authority to improve the navigability, accessibility, and programming for Downtown parking.

Describe how residents of your town are actively involved in local decision making.

From town halls to public meetings, we have a vocal constituency in Downtown York. Our local newspaper has started a Facebook Group called "Fixing York" (we don't like the name!) that has more than 5,000 members who share good news, discuss challenges, and brainstorm solutions. The recent revitalization efforts in Downtown York have been very grassroots--it has been young people, entrepreneurs and business owners spearheading a lot of the change. Our administration has been extremely open and flexible in working with the efforts that are happening.

Tell us a story about how your town adapted to a challenge in some way.

The past decade has seen many positive developments at the center of the York’s metropolitan area: York College has seen its undergraduate enrollment swell to over 5,000 students. York’s downtown is now averaging better than a ribbon-cutting each month for new businesses. The Codorus Creek is as clean as it has been in generations. At the center of all of this progress lies the trailhead of the York Heritage Rail Trail. County-wide, this jewel of the county parks system boasts nearly 400,000 annual visitors and has brought revitalization to many of the small communities through which it passes.

In the City of York, however, this central “connector” had failed to knit together the aforementioned strands of progress. Many users of the Rail Trail proceed from the south to the edge of the city only to turn around as the trail leaves the countryside. A 2011 survey showed that two thirds of York College students were not aware that their campus is adjacent to the Rail Trail or that the Rail Trail is their best route into the downtown. Few downtown residents viewed the urban Rail Trail as a riverfront park.

Development projects are putting millions of collective dollars into preserving and enhancing the rich architecture that gives our buildings character. For the first time in decades, people are moving back INTO the city, improving our tax rolls.

Downtown Inc led the charge, along with the City of York, the County of York, York College and more than 20 community partners to make improvements to the existing section of the York County Heritage Rail Trail and planning for the Trail’s extension through the Northwest Triangle. Upgrades to this portion of the Trail included LED bollard lighting, pervious pavement, benches, signage, landscaping, and ADA access and was completed in August 2016.

Is your town financially strong and resilient for future generations? How do you know?

Downtown York is experiencing a resurgence in economic development. Development projects are putting millions of collective dollars into preserving and enhancing the rich architecture that gives our buildings character. For the first time in decades, people are moving back INTO the city, improving our tax rolls.

Our city faces--like many cities--the problem of unfunded pension liability. Our City has been working with legislators and the Fraternal Order of Police to save nearly $10 million in projected pension costs, avoid devastating layoffs of public safety employees and help improve the stability of its pension fund. It's an ongoing process, but there are strategies in place.

Does you town have a central "downtown" or district? If so, please describe this place.

Yes! Downtown York is thriving. Branded micro districts continue to grow, expanding Downtown’s reach into surrounding neighborhoods. Grant programs and private dollars are being invested in the physical landscape, providing lighting to Continental Square and providing improved Rail Trail access to city and county neighborhoods. New retailers and restaurants provide access to a greater array of goods and services as well as more varieties of cuisine. Attendance at events is at all-time highs, engaging visitors from the County as well as entertaining our residents.

We were recently named one of the Most Romantic Main Streets in America by Main Street USA.

We were recently named one of the Most Romantic Main Streets in America by Main Street USA. Our Downtown is a walkable art gallery, with industrial art pieces and sculptures on display. We have a burgeoning craft beer scene with four Downtown breweries and a popular tap house. Our Central Market House comes alive on Saturday mornings.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

I love this community. We tend to see ourselves as underdogs (thanks to our neighbor across the river, Lancaster), and that makes us work that much harder. Growing up in York, my dad bet me $10,000 I would move home some day. I scoffed and city-hopped after college, to D.C., Philadelphia and New York. And in 2010... I moved home. There was a very real feeling that change was happening and anyone could be a part of it. The current wave of revitalization has been very grassroots and that's been amazing. We have a hashtag that we've been using for 7 years: #iloveyorkcity.


Voting is now closed.